By TIFFANY REPECKI
Experts are predicting a busy Atlantic hurricane season for 2013, which kicked off Saturday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center released the Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook last week for the season, which runs through November. Weather forecasters are expecting an active or extremely active season for the Atlantic basin for the year.
"They look at the signals that are becoming obvious in April and May that may give some clues as to how the season will shape up," Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said.
Experts are anticipating 13 to 20 named storms. Of the named storms, seven to 11 are predicted to become hurricanes, with three to six forecasted to become major hurricanes - a Category 3, 4, or 5. A normal level of activity is about 12 storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
"So, all of those ranges there (for 2013) are all above the normals," he said.
Forecasters are attributing the active season prediction to three key points.
"We're still in that active hurricane cycle," Feltgen said.
In place since 1995, the cycle involves strong West African monsoons.
"These are the seedlings for some of the big hurricanes that we see," he said. "These are big, sloppy rain disturbances that roll off the coast of Africa."
These cycles have been known to last for 20, 30 or even 40 years.
"So, we're nowhere near done," Feltgen said.
Warmer than average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea are also playing a part, along with the lack of El Nino and the increase in wind sheer that comes with it.
"That would suppress the formation of hurricanes," he said.
"It all points to an active hurricane season once again," Feltgen added.
During 2012, 19 named storms formed, including Debbie, Isaac and Sandy. Forecasters originally predicted a near average season last May, later updating the outlook in August for an active season.
"They thought El Nino was going to form," he said, adding that it did not happen.
This year's forecast also will be updated in early August.
Feltgen emphasized that the outlook is not a hurricane landfall forecast.
"That kind of long-range science does not exist," he said. "This should never be used as a guide to determine if you need to prepare or not - you've got to be prepared."
For seven years now, Florida and the United States have both been spared from sustaining a direct hit from a major hurricane. Hurricane Wilma was the last one recorded both statewide and nationwide.
Hurricanes Isaac, Ike and Sandy were hurricanes, all weaker than a Category 3 storm.
A below average season was predicted in 1992 - the year Hurricane Andrew swept though.
"And we've had active seasons where none made landfall in the U.S.," Feltgen said.
In preparing for hurricane season, he suggested that residents first determine if they are residing in an evacuation zone. If so, they should have a plan for where they will go if they are told to evacuate.